An 18th Century Odd Couple
In this episode, the second of three in our Franklin series, we dig into the rivalry between these founders—a rivalry that existed mostly but not completely within John Adams’s head.
John Adams and Benjamin Franklin first met in 1775 at the Second Continental Congress when they stood alongside each other in the fight for American independence. Well, John stood anyway. He stood and he yelled and he argued and he wrote. The 69-year-old Franklin quietly sat, and sometimes even slept in his chair. That was the beginning of Adams’s contempt for the most famous man in the world—a contempt that would span continents and decades and even lifetimes.
To Franklin, Adams was a paranoid arrogant by-the-book nuisance. To Adams, Franklin was a lazy, immoral, cunning phony who hogged the spotlight. In this episode we dig into what exactly made Adams say that Franklin’s “whole life has been one continued insult to good manners and to decency” and what made Franklin say that Adams was “always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes, and in some things, absolutely out of his senses.”
On November 29, we’ll dive more into Franklin’s “indecent” behavior and what he described in his own words as his “hard-to-be-governed passion.”
Evans, William B. “John Adams’ Opinion of Benjamin Franklin.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 92, no. 2, 1968, pp. 220–38. JSTOR, Accessed 14 Nov. 2022.
John Adams hates silence:: “From John Adams to Benjamin Rush, 23 July 1806,” Founders Online, National Archives
Adams is sometimes “absolutely out of his senses.” “From Benjamin Franklin to Robert R. Livingston, 22[–26] July 1783,” Founders Online, National Archives. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 40, May 16 through September 15, 1783, ed. Ellen R. Cohn. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011, pp. 355–370.]
John Adams and Benjamin Franklin shared a bed: “[Monday September 9, 1776.] ,” Founders Online, National Archives. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, vol. 3, Diary, 1782–1804; Autobiography, Part One to October 1776, ed. L. H. Butterfield. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961, pp. 417–420.]